Small wonder

DARREN FRIESEN -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:21 PM ET

LAKE LOUISE -- Like the neighbourhood kid who never eats dinner at his own house, Marco Buechel is often seen latching onto other teams during down time.

As the sole bright spot for the tiny Liechtenstein squad, Buechel -- who often attends races on his own -- is forced to make company with other teams throughout the long season on the World Cup circuit.

Among his favourites, admitted Buechel yesterday after finishing third in the downhill at the Winterstart World Cup, is the friendly Canadian team.

"I love spending time with the Canadians, they are all really nice guys, even though they have taken a lot of my money playing poker," said Buechel, who captured his first career downhill podium yesterday, finishing behind first-place Fritz Strobl of Austria (1:40:96) and Norway's Kjetil Andre Aamodt (1:41:05).

"I love Lake Louise so much. I can only get here when I ski but, when I'm done with skiing, I'll definitely be back. I want to see this place in the summer and I want to show it to my wife."

For Buechel, who finished in a time of 1:41:11, the bronze medal was a particularly poignant feat because of his relationship with Canadian ski racer Thomas Grandi, who hails from down the highway in Canmore.

"Over the years, we've got to know each other pretty good and I consider him to be one of the nicest guys in the World Cup," said Buechel. "Watching him win his two races last year and me doing so well this year proves to me that nice guys can finish first."

As for yesterday's winner, the victory was somewhat redeeming.

During a training run last season, Strobl badly injured his eye after crashing into a gate. Following the accident, Austrian ski officials blasted onsite medical response for not giving the 33-year-old Austrian the attention they felt he deserved.

However, not wanting to dwell on last year's controversy, Strobl refused to answer questions about the accident and was just pleased with his first downhill gold medal since the 2002 season.

"I thought I skied very well," said Strobl, who once again filled his day with drama by forgetting his race suit in his hotel room prior to yesterday's performance. "I was a little bit surprised, because normally I don't like the downhill here. It's flat and you have to be a good glider and normally I'm more of a technical skier."

Erik Guay of Mont Tremblant, Que., was the top Canadian but finishing 17th with a time of 1:42:07 wasn't his ideal outcome.

"I kept hooking my edges for some reason. I don't know what that was all about," said Guay. "Coming off the top pitch onto the flat, I tried to run a pretty aggressive line and pooched it and lost all my speed."

The lone bright spot came from Calgary's John Kucera, who gained some confidence by cracking the top-30 for the first time in his World Cup race career.

"It feels great to get a top-30 and get a good start for the rest of the year," said Kucera, who finished 25th.

Manual Osborne-Paradis of Invermere, B.C., was the only other Canadian to place -- 38th (1:43:27).

American Bode Miller, last year's winner in both the downhill and the Super G at this event, skied a very sloppy race and ultimately grabbed the 22nd position with a time of 1:42:43.

Racing continues today with the Super G set to start at 12:30 p.m.


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